Free Internet texts fail to shake SMS usage

Free Internet-based text messages have been in Kenya for several years now, but their impact remains limited.
   The Internet text messages have not upset SMS market in the country as few people turn to them, despite being free.

   While in other parts of the world free message applications, which have seen their popularity rise with smart phones, have eaten into the SMS market, in Kenya, SMSs remain the most favourite form of text messages.
   Kenya, as many other countries in the world, has experienced an upsurge of smart phones, as demand rises. This means Kenyans can have access to message applications like WhatsApp and iMessage. Mobile phones users have also access to Facebook mobile messaging platform.
   Then there is Google, which offers free text-messages for email account holders. These platforms have been in Kenya for quite sometime but they have not unsettled SMS, which remains the favourite among Kenyans as subscribers send billions of text-messages every three months.
   Latest data from Communication Commission of Kenya (CCK) indicate that between October and December last year, Kenyans sent 3.6 billion SMSs.
   This was a threefold increase from the previous period of July to September, 2012. "This increase may have been fuelled by high service use during the festive season," said CCK in the report released in April. The regulator also cut down SMS termination rate, making mobile service providers reduce their charges, thus increasing uptake.
   "The growth in SMS traffic is also attributed to reduced prices as CCK implemented SMS termination rates glide path. Currently, off-net termination rate is 0.001 US dollars per SMS," said CCK, adding that most of the SMSs, 3.4 billion were sent on-net.
   The institution further noted that with reduction in voice tariffs, mobile phone service providers in the East African nation are training their eyes on other sources of revenue that include SMSs.
   It costs 0.01 dollars to send on-net SMS in the East African nation. On the other hand, off-net SMS costs between 0.01 and 0.02 dollars depending on the operator.
   While there is no data on usage of free Internet-based text messages in the East African nation, it is obvious that the services cannot match use of SMSs.
   "I know of Internet sites that offer free text-messages, including Google, but I rarely use them. They are not convenient if you compare them with SMS, which is just a click away," says Simon Kavengo, a university student.      Kavengo, as many other Kenyans, would love to send text messages for free, but he does not.
   "I have a Smartphone, but it is not from Apple. That means I cannot access applications like iMessage. But I know of websites that offer free web-to-mobile phone messages but I do not use them because they are not convenient," he said.
   To access the sites, said Kavengo, one has to have Internet access and log into their accounts. "This takes time. It is not like SMS, which is just a click away and can be used on Internet-enabled mobile phones and those that are not," he said.
   Software technologist David Ng'eno agreed unease of access is the main reason why free messages have failed to take off in Kenya while the costly SMSs rise in popularity.
   However, he said some people use the free messages when sending bulk messages.
   "Going through the tedious process of accessing free messages on Internet only makes sense if they will reduce one's costs. This will only happen if one is sending bulk messages. Most people use them to send messages to groups," he said, adding that some of the message applications found in the West are not available in Kenya.
   He said free text-messages are years away from eating into SMS revenue because of the challenges subscribers face.
   To send free messages on Google, one has to have an email account. They log into the account and key in the mobile phone number in the Send SMS box, starting with country code, then type the message and send. One can reply the message with SMS, which will go straight into the recipient's email account.
   "Sending and receiving a message from Gmail to any phone is free. When replying with an SMS from mobile phone to Gmail, you will be charged a regular SMS rate by your mobile provider. Gmail SMS is currently available in Kenya for Airtel, Orange, Safaricom, and Yu," says Google.
   A recent report by Switz firm Informa revealed that last year, mobile phone users sent more messages on applications than SMSs.
   By 2014, the firm predicted the difference will be 50 billion texts on messages applications across the world versus 21 billion SMSs.
   In terms of revenue, UK research firm Ovum noted in a recent study rise of messaging applications will cost mobile phone service providers 32.6 billion dollars of lost revenue this year, and as much as 86 billion US dollars in 2020. (Xinhua)